Vivian Sessoms is a world-renowned backing vocalist, having worked with the likes of Ryuchi Sakamoto, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, while Chris Parks has produced many r'n'b artists and created music for games, amongst other entries on his résumé. The duo released 2007's Sunny One Day under the Albright moniker, an immensely proficient, yet simultaneously immensely tedious effort, full of workaday, by-numbers 'urban' nonsense, mostly a good two minutes longer than their content really warrants, the disc outliving its usefulness by a factor of at least two. Worst track? Probably the truly dismal reworking of Tainted Love, retitled Tainted, while the funky Ghettoland and Heroin' are about the best things here, although that really isn't much of a recommendation. Sessoms is credited with Mellotron, with nothing obvious until Heroin', when the sample game is well and truly given away by her use of the MkII 'moving strings', which effectively nails her use down to the M-Tron sample set, while the muffled choirs on Searchin' and strings on closer Fadin' Out could hopefully never have emulated from a real machine. Sometimes there's a reason for sidemen/women to be in that position. Stick with what you're good at, guys.
Alco Frisbass are the duo of Fabrice "Chfab" Chouette and Patrick "Paskinel" Dufour, supposedly operating at the 'Canterbury' end of the progressive spectrum, although that description strikes me as a tad simplistic. The six tracks on their eponymous 2014 debut contain considerably more variety than your typical genre outfit, shifting between styles with a rapidity that would leave many bands standing, from jazzy Rhodes work through pure fusion to 'Mellotron'-driven symphonic in the blink of an eye. Guests include members of Minimum Vital and White Willow, while Stormy Six's Archimede De Martini's contributions on violin are superb. Chouette adds Mellotron samples to pretty much every track, mostly chordal strings, with the occasional flute or choir part; it's a shame he couldn't have sourced a real machine for the recording, but there you go. How are the duo going to play live? When two musicians share most of the guitar, bass, keyboard and drum parts between them, something's got to give; sadly, I suppose they may remain a studio project. So, although it has its faults (sometimes it's possible to be too eclectic), Alco Frisbass should keep most open-minded prog fans happy. Worth the effort.
After playing various style (including metal) in various bands, Guillaume Aldebert released his first solo album in 2000, 2008's Enfantillages being his fifth, a very French combination of chanson, folk, jazz and even a little reggae. Oh and the aforementioned metal, in the form of schizophrenic closer On M'a Volé Mon Nin-Nin!, which switches between acoustic-guitar-and-child's-voice and raging heaviosity. Different, different... Christophe Darlot is credited with Mellotron on Les Questions, but the song's flute part is most unconvincing, frankly. I'm not sure many Planet Mellotron readers will be that impressed by Aldebert, although he's perfectly good at what he does. Certainly not worth it for a soupçon of sampled Mellotron, anyway.
After its first few tracks, when Alfs Andra's in more of a borderline-indie area, it becomes that rarest of things, a Swedish-language powerpop album, all genre tropes present and correct; no reason why not, of course, but most practitioners sing in English, wherever they're from. This is at its best on Söttsalt, Tid Tar Tid and Motljus, but little here should disappoint. Håkan "Alf" Åkesson (I presume this is his solo project) plays samplotron flutes on Kunde Vart Jag and strings on Söttsalt, the latter really giving the sample game away, with a near-twenty second sustain.
Kelli Ali is better-known in some quarters as Kelli Dayton of Sneaker Pimps, a highly-regarded lesser light on the mid-'90s UK trip-hop scene. She left the band in '98, taking another five years to release her solo debut, Tigermouth and was berated by the British press for her trouble for making such a mainstream record. The occasional track heads (slightly) out onto a limb, notably Beautiful Boy and the upbeat pop/rock of The Infinite Stars, but the vast majority of the album's material sticks fairly closely to the 'hit' formula, making it ironic that the album was a relative flop. Producer Rick Nowels (Dido, Ronan Keating) adds sampled Mellotron and Chamberlin to the album, with cellos, flutes and strings on Angel In L.A. and flutes on Sunlight In The Rain.
All Haunt's Sound was The Alice Rose's fourth album (of five), an indie/folk/pop hybrid, at its least bad on Waste Away and Slumberella, maybe. Brendan Rogers and JoDee Purkeypile are both credited with Mellotron and, indeed, there's a lot to be heard, with strings, flutes and cellos all over the album, although the Mellotron piano on Agony Aunt gives the sample game away for definite. Their In a Daze EP breaks no new ground, with samplotron flutes on the title track.
Discogs 'style' tags for Alive With Worms include 'goth rock' and 'avantgarde'; less of the latter, more of the former, I'd say. Janine Neble's rather shrieky operatic voice is about as goth as it gets, as is the band's default setting. Think: Dead Can Dance with all the good bits removed, although they shift into a higher gear for the last few tracks. Tom Martens is credited with 'Melotron/synth', but I'd love to know why.
All Night Radio are the ex-Beachwood Sparks duo of Dave Scher and Jimi Hey, who've ditched the rump Americana of the last Beachwood release to go fully psychedelic on 2004's Spirit Stereo Frequency. Of course, the usual caveat applies; such a lysergically-inspired album can only sound like pastiche, unless the participants are preternaturally talented and/or inspired. The standard end result is an interesting, fun album with not a shred of originality in its digital grooves and so it proves here. Opener Daylight Till Dawn rips off the riff from Crimson's The Court Of The Crimson King something rotten, although that's probably the most modern reference on the record, the rest of it sitting firmly in the 1966-67 bracket. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just not a very original one.
Somebody plays something vaguely Mellotronic across much of the album, but I'm quite sure it's sampled, going by some of the higher notes, not to mention a lack of any specific credit (most artists these days boast about using real tape-replay). Which, of course, brings up the issue of whether or not Beachwood Sparks used a real one? Probably not, but it sounds less fake than here... Anyway, not-particularly Mellotronic strings on around half the tracks, notably the solo part on the intro to Anchovya Suite, plus what might be fakeotron flutes in places, though it's hard to tell. Overall, then, a good if highly derivative album, with plenty of sampled Mellotron, although the pair sadly packed it in later the same year. Now, about those Beachwood albums, chaps...
Nashville-based All Them Witches are a current heavy(-ish) psychedelic band, albeit less heavy (and certainly less progressive) than, say, Astra; in fact, the one thing that lets them down (admittedly possibly only in my eyes) is the indie influence prevalent on much of 2017's Sleeping Through the War. The album starts well with Bulls, but by the likes of Am I Going Up? or Alabaster, they've shifted into a cross between a late '60s first-time-round jamband and an indie outfit doing too much weed. Best tracks aside from Bulls? Cowboy Kirk gets going nicely as it progresses, while closer (Guess I'll Go Live On The) Internet jams out nicely over its nine-minute length, but too much of the album meanders aimlessly, although I'm quite certain that's the band's intention. No fewer than three of the band's four members are credited with Mellotron: vocalist/bassist Charles Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod and keys man Allan Van Cleave. In which case, all I have to say is: where is it? The only obvious use is some background strings, followed by a chordal string part that suddenly appears towards the end of Bulls, almost certainly sampled.
LA's Allah-Las have nailed that breezy '60s California sound on 2017's Autumn Dawn (Alternative Take), as I'm told they have on their three albums to date. Think: Love, The Doors, The Byrds, even (musically, at least) The Mamas & the Papas and you won't be too far off the mark. Unlike many revivalists (deliberate or, as the band claim, accidental), they not only capture the spirit of the time, but ally it to decent tunes, a detail all too often forgotten, or ignored. Although their Bandcamp page calls b-side Hereafter 'Mellotron-heavy', it all sounds too smooth for its own good to my ears, so this will remain here unless I get any reliable information to the contrary. Having not heard any of their albums, I can't comment on their wider appeal, but, going by these two tracks, they're at the very least worth hearing.
Ma(a)rtin Allcock was Fairport Convention's lead guitarist for over ten years, from 1985-96, also playing keys with Jethro Tull from '88-'91, amongst his many musical adventures since the mid-'70s. 2004's Serving Suggestion is his third (and to date, most recent) solo album, an appealing collection of material, both folky (Breathnach Reels, Hornpipes, Kerry Polkas) and not (the poppy We Will Dance Someday, the rocky Everything Changes), highlights including ethnic opener Murfatlar, the semi-ambient Hafelekar and the beautiful New Breton. Actual 'best track' status, however, might just go to Maart's version of King Crimson's immortal Moonchild (from In the Court of the Crimson King, of course), nodding to the original's lengthy (and tedious) improv section with around two minutes of relatively structured improvisation after the song itself.
Although Maart refers to his 'Mellotron' several times in the sleevenotes, it's actually good ol' M-Tron (thanks for the info and CD, Maart), utilised on several tracks, with a string part in the middle eight of opener Murfatlar that resolves to an outrageously Epitaph-like crescendo and background string pads on Everything Changes and Hornpipes. The album's uncontested (and unsurprising) M-Tron highlight, however, is Moonchild, smothered in strings in exactly the way the original wasn't, although we all wish it had been. All in all, an excellent album that, due to the public's (limited) perception of Maart's role, has probably only sold to Fairport fans. OK, you're only getting Mellotron samples, but Moonchild not only almost makes this worth buying on its own, but is merely one of the best tracks from a very good album indeed. Buy. As a tragic footnote, Maart died on 16th September 2018, aged 61, a month after his final, blistering guest spot, playing 'Metal Matty' with Fairport at their annual Cropredy bash. A heartfelt RIP, Maart.
Growing up in rural Devon, south-west England, Jon Allen was free to develop without the pressures of any urban music scene, resulting in a young artist principally influenced by roots rock and all the 'classic' artists. You think this is a bad thing? Regressive? Heard any contemporary indie lately? 2009's Dead Mans Suit [sic.] is a decent enough effort, although too many of its tracks err on the slight side, steering the album in the direction of a collection of also-rans. Reading it back, that seems incredibly harsh (and not very well-written); the album contains some strong material, not least the opening title track, Bad Penny (which sounds like a more tuneful Dylan) and closer Friends, which delivers not only one of the record's better tunes, but also one of its most mature lyrics. Allen plays 'Mellotron', with an arranged string part on Going Home that sounds sampled to my ears. The album was apparently recorded in a house in Balham, south London, which means nothing: I have a Mellotron in my house. I doubt whether there was one there, though.
Lily bleedin' Allen? Daughter of Keith bleedin' Allen? On Planet Mellotron? After her ubiquitous debut, 2006's irritating Alright, Still (find it in a charity shop near you), her second album, It's Not Me, it's You, is actually (wait for it) not that bad. Going by the standards of mainstream pop, of course. The music is essentially composed and played by producer Greg Kurstin, with Allen apparently 'singing along' to his creations, the end result being surprisingly cohesive; that'll be professional producers for you, then. Allen's mockney (mock Cockney, for non-Brits) has become more than a little tiresome, especially as she's known to have attended a series of public schools (i.e. private, for non-Brits again), despite her protestations that she grew up in a 'working-class environment'. Well, I'm sure your parents worked, dear. In fact, I know they did; I saw your dad in a production at the National.
So what's the music actually like, I hear you cry (albeit faintly). Well, it ain't bloody R&B, which is a blessed relief after some of the unmitigated crap I've listened to recently. 'Mainstream pop with vaguely interesting bits thrown in' is probably the best I can do. Allen's voice is ridiculously close-up and high in the mix; she's very much the selling-point here and her record company clearly want her to be heard. Opener Everyone's At It features some interesting backwards electronica, Not Fair, with its uncomprehending, self-centred lyric dealing unsympathetically with the topic of premature ejaculation (It's not fair! Wah wah wah!) samples a talented banjoist for its unusual rave/country mix, Never Gonna Happen's French accordion raises eyebrows, while Fuck You is almost swing.
Lyrically, Allen is actually pretty talented (he says through gritted teeth), commenting dryly on what it means to be young these days (OK, young and wealthy. Whatever), tackling drug use (Everyone's At It), going-nowhere relationships (Never Gonna Happen) her dad (He Wasn't There) and even racism and loathsome politicians (Fuck You, Him), making vague amends for Not Fair. Best track? Fuck You has the best music and lyrics on the record, actually making me laugh out loud and not just for its contentious title and chorus. Kurstin adds Mellotron string samples to I Could Say, or at least, they sound like samples. I could be wrong (as usual), but I'm probably not... Anyway, to my great surprise, a superior pop album, with some genuine lyrical insight, certainly compared to the industry's usual banalities.
Alloy Now were a one-off project from Plastic Overlords' David Noel, Twin Sister of the Milky Way being contemporaneous with the Overlords' debut. Best described as indie/psych, it's at its best on nine-minute opener The Butterscotch Star, Mysteries Of Ancient Earth and Ghostly Superhero, the first time I've ever heard anyone quote Satie in a rock context. Noel plays obvious samplotron, with background choirs on The Butterscotch Star and A Sunny Day In England, flutes and strings on Mysteries Of Ancient Earth and other bits elsewhere.
Anne Marie Almedal was vocalist with samplotron users Velvet Belly for a decade before going solo, debuting with 2007's The Siren & the Sage. It's a gentle, drifting album of dreamy, folk-influenced pop, like Kate Bush on mogadons; probably a slightly harsh assessment, but its languid sameyness makes it difficult to concentrate on the music to any great extent. Maybe that's the point? Also, her (or, more likely, her record company's) insistence on promoting her via rather inappropriate imagery (all short skirts and high heels) rankles a little, too. Anyway, Nicholas Sillitoe plays supposed Mellotron, with background strings and flutes on Since Yesterday, though it's hardly the most arresting use you'll ever hear. She followed up with 2010's Blue Sky Blue, a similar album to its predecessor, albeit with one particular highpoint: her version of The Stones' Paint It Black is superb, as she enunciates the lyrics more clearly than Mick ever could. Two credited 'Mellotron' tracks from Sillitoe again, with nothing audible on Dawn Chorus and faint background strings on Gardengreen.
Marc Almond (not, of course, to be confused with early '70s Brit-jazzers Mark-Almond) rose to prominence with the superb Soft Cell with Dave Ball in 1980, going on to a solo career four years later. 2010's Varieté is his eighteenth post-Soft Cell effort, including releases with two other band projects, staying true to his lifelong obsession with the sleazier side of things, jazz and cabaret influences to the fore, as ever. While the album's good (possibly excellent) at what it does, Marc sounds like he's repeating himself, both musically and lyrically, with tales of drag queens, unrequited love et al., although it's a million miles from Soft Cell's cool turn-of-the-'80s electronica. Incidentally, Soho So Long appears to be built around a sample from Squeeze's classic Take Me, I'm Yours - well, Mr. Almond? Roland Faber plays what sounds like sampled Mellotron on two tracks, with strings on My Madness And I (mis-credited as being on Cabaret Clown) alongside a well-played Theremin and while there's nothing audible on Swan Song, it features some of the best Hammond work I've heard in a while. Overall, you're probably not going to go a bundle on this unless you're already a fan, but as a non-believer, I have to say that much of it grabbed my attention in the way that most current albums don't.
Andi Almqvist is a Swedish singer-songwriter whose work tends towards the gloomier end of the spectrum, which is good news for everyone who's sick of lightweight, glossy American types with perfect teeth and an ear for an overly catchy tune. Almqvist's third album, 2009's Glimmer, almost sounds like a mainstream, cleaned-up Tom Waits in places, if you replaced the battered 1920s instrumentation with something a little more, er, normal. Top tracks include She Lost The Sea But Found The Ocean, the amusing Krautobahn and closer Petra Moved On, but nothing here made this listener reach for the 'next' button. But what's with the 'fairground' sample from Queen's Brighton Rock on Ich Geh' Mit Meiner Laterne (and not for the first time, eh, Galactic Cowboys?)?
Almqvist, Carl Granberg and Bebe Risenfors are all credited with Mellotron, but its veracity is given away immediately, as almost the first sound you hear on opener Sleeping Pills is the MkII 'moving strings', seemingly becoming something of a favourite with many M-Tron users. The track also features queasy, slowly pitchbent strings, flutes and even vibes and while there's nothing obvious on She Lost The Sea But Found The Ocean, it sounds like bass accordion (?) on Death. So; a surprisingly listenable effort from an artist who didn't look too promising at first glance, despite obviously sampled Mellotron.
Many online reviews label Aloha art-rock, or even a modern take on prog. Wellll... Slightly arty indie with the occasional tricky bit thrown in for good measure might be a closer description, albeit rather less snappy. They apparently featured vibraphone heavily on their early records, but vibraphonist Eric Koltnow left after 2002's Sugar, leaving the band to find a new instrumental focus.
Their third album, 2004's Here Comes Everyone, fits the above description to a T, my main beef being that memorable material seems to be at a bit of a premium, although I'm quite sure fans of the band will shoot me down for saying so. Most of the songs are slightly Tortoise-like downbeat efforts, although Perry Como Gold gives the 'widescreen proggish effort' button a good whack, giving the whole a 'just about made it' three stars. T.J. Lipple is credited with Mellotron, with flutes on opener All The Wars, You've Escaped and Setting Up Shop and something else (cellos?) on Thermostat. I've seen a reference to a 'homemade Mellotron', so I've no idea whether what we're hearing is the Real Deal or some other form of bodged-together tape-replay device. Or indeed, samples. Who knows? Two years on and Some Echoes repeats the formula, if with a slightly more psychedelic bent than before. Again, not much to stick in the synapses, although the slightly proggy Summer Lawn has its moments. Practically none of whatever Lipple's calling a Mellotron this time round, with only what sounds like high-end cellos on Come Home.
The Aloha Steamtrain were a kind-of psych band, also incorporating elements of music from earlier in the '60s, at least on Girl Planet, at its best on opener Last Week, Cynical Mayor's Son and Waste Of Time. Henning Ohlenbusch's 'Mellotron' turns out to be the instantly obviously sampled strings that kick the album off and reiterate elsewhere, plus occasional flutes.
Alon produces an interestingly arty type of laid-back pop; an American Coldplay with less angst, maybe? Going by his current press release, he seems to be aligning himself with the US progressive scene, strangely and is actually going to appear at NEARfest 2005. Anyway, Time Will Tell is a taster for his forthcoming album, The Artist Manifesto: Document 1 and despite having been fairly obviously Pro-Tooled into oblivion, actually features real playing from real musicians, with largish helpings of acoustic guitar, real drums etc., along with the ubiquitous programmed variety. Alon's voice is quite affecting, too and if all his material is up to this standard and if the world were a fairer place, he'd stand as good a chance as any of invading bedsitland over the coming months, which is where his loyalties really lie, I suspect.
Rather than the usual 'cheats', Alon openly credits himself with 'M-Tron' and indeed, Mellotron strings are splashed all over the single in a fairly pleasing manner. Of course, the rise of computer-based Mellotron sample packages means that you no longer even have to make the effort to buy a module containing said sounds and it seems there's been an explosion in their use recently. You can just about tell the Mellotron here isn't real (too clean and even), but a well-maintained machine wouldn't sound that different, making Mellotron-spotting an increasingly difficult game, so thank you Alon for coming clean. If the album's up to the quality of the single and if Coldplay/'art-rock' are your bag, you could do a great deal worse than to invest in The Artist Manifesto: Document 1, although a less pretentious title might've been welcome.
In No Second Guesses, Jenni Alpert has managed to produce a record of quite outstanding dullness, wiffly singer-songwriter pop with a vaguely jazzy edge. No, there are no best tracks. Julian Coryell and Zac Rae are both credited with Mellotron. What, the strings on Breathe In? I think not.
Catherine Ribeiro and Patrice Moullet were the only consistent members of (Catherine Ribeiro +) Alpes, Moullet continuing to use the name on occasion after their 1981 split. I can't imagine Rock Sous la Dalle sounds much like the original band's work, being a kind of programmed ethno-fusion, all digital synths and late '80s sequencer lines, which is actually rather better than that unpromising description sounds. Despite historical online references to Mellotron use, it's hardly surprising that the nearest we get is some generic choir samples.
Alpha are one of a number of second-division trip-hop outfits and yes, they're from the Bristol area. The Impossible Thrill is their second album proper, following 1997's ComeFromHeaven and a remix set, '98's Pepper, fitting neatly into the quiet, low-fi end of the genre, eschewing overt beats for orchestration and melancholy. But is it any good? Matter of opinion, I suppose, as always; plenty of 'Net reviewers have gone ga-ga over it, but it left me pretty cold, but what do I know? Nicely done 'Mellotron' flutes on Al Sation from an unknown player, but with no obvious references to the machine and the sound's overly-pristine quality, I say samples. This is the sort of album you want on in the background while being miserable, like a rhythmless Portishead, but don't come here looking for musical innovation.
As you might have guessed, Altar of Oblivion are a Danish metal band (sub-species unknown. Power?), whose near-hour long debut, Sinews of Anguish (stop laughing) is an interminable dirge of pointlessly over-stretched material, like Manowar on mogadons. The vocals are ridiculously portentous and overblown, though at least we're spared loads of widdly guitar, largely because the guitarist doesn't sound like he's up to it, rather than for reasons of taste. Although now ex-drummer Lars Ström is credited with Mellotron, it all sounds decidedly fake to me. Strings on a few tracks with extra cellos on My Pinnacle Of Power and possibly choirs here and there, plus what sounds like quite generic string patches in places. 2012's half-hour Salvation EP/mini-album wins out over its predecessor, chiefly due to length, or lack of same. It pulls all the same moves, although possibly a little more professionally, which isn't really much of a recommendation. Ström on fakeotron again, with obviously-sampled strings on a couple of tracks, chiefly Threshold To Oblivion (My Wrecked Mind).
Echolyn disintegrated in disarray after their ill-advised major label venture, sundering into two camps, Finneus Gauge and Still, whose lone album, Always Almost, quickly became their new name, albeit for an unknown reason. The combo's second release of 1997, God Pounds His Nails, is a highly eclectic (and rather overlong) release, covering really quite mainstream rock (opener Pretty Fine Day, Silence And Rumor), hard rock (React Me, Five Doors) and, of course, a good dose of prog, not least the Echolyn-esque While I Was Away. Other highlights include the brief, acoustic West Point (spot the banjo) and closer Aspirations, which bears comparison with Zep's No Quarter. J(ohn). Avarese is credited with Mellotron, but as on the Still album, all I can say is, "I think not..." The only definite samples are the strings on Five Doors, leaving the wishy-washy strings on the Zep-esque (again) React Me and flutes on Bye Bye Dreary Kitty as 'unsures', as if it actually matters. I can't imagine there are too many people out there who like all of this album, but I'm sure that many like some of it and many more would, too, if only they got the chance to hear it.
Amandine are a Swedish sort-of Americana four-piece, whose debut, 2005's This is Where Our Hearts Collide, showcases their laid-back, vaguely Neil Young-ish approach with aplomb. 'Best tracks' include opener For All The Marbles, the string-laden, waltz-time Halo, the sparse Fathers & Sons, complete with picked banjo and closer Heart Tremor, particularly at around three minutes in, when it suddenly doubles its pace, but there actually isn't a single genuinely weak track here, which is rare enough to be worthy of comment. If I have a criticism, Olof Gidlöf's vocals are sometimes so transparent that they approach invisibility, but that is, frankly, nit-picking. Ove Andersson adds supposed Mellotron flutes to Firefly, if only just. 2006's Leave Out the Sad Parts EP and the following year's Solace in Sore Hands carry on the good work, the album at its best on opener Faintest Of Sparks, Standing In Line and mournful, brass-led closer New Morning. Andersson's flutes on Faintest Of Sparks and possibly elsewhere are clearly not actually Mellotron-generated, while, despite a credit, there's nothing obvious on the EP at all.
Top-selling Spanish duo Amaral, named for vocalist Eva Amaral, play a kind of Latin-infused pop/rock, tailor-made to appeal to the Spanish market, not necessarily in an opportunistic way, I suspect. 2005's Pajaros en la Cabeza (their fourth album) sounds like the kind of music Spanish twenty- and thirty-somethings might listen to when they've grown out of their various teenage phases: tuneful, slightly 'alt.rock', with plenty of local stylistic input, some tracks (Revolución, Big Bang) sounding more sub-U2 than others, with plenty of Mediterranean balladry. Guitarist Juan Aguirre, crediting himself as "Los Aguirre", plays supposed Mellotron, with flutes all over opener El Universo Sobre Mí.
Amarok (the Inuit word for 'wolf', also used as an album title by Mike Oldfield) are an extremely pleasant surprise; a modern progressive band who don't sound like either a poor cousin of Arena or an unholy cross between Dream Theater and Spock's Beard. They mix old-school symphonic progressive rock with Spanish and 'World' influences, incorporating any number of unusual acoustic instruments (saz, dulcimer, kalimba and many neither you nor I have ever heard of) into their sound, making for a wonderful hybrid of prog and folk, sounding like no-one else. They are apparently heavily into the environment, going as far as to record 2000's Tierra de Especias (their fourth album overall) entirely using solar power. That album and its follow-up, 2002's Mujer Luna, are recommended to everyone looking for something a little different in their prog, with great material and a genuinely original sound. Sadly, 2004's Quentadharkën, is their weakest release, suffering from the twin handicaps of over-length and not enough top-notch material, leading them to even include a brief and unnecessary drum solo in the rather average Labirintos De Piedra, but is still worth hearing compared to the bulk of the current scene.
2007's Sol de Medianoche is a step back in the right direction; not short, but rather shorter than its less illustrious predecessor. Top tracks include opener Sephiroth, the Chinese-flavoured Xiöngmao I and the lengthy Midnight Sun, while, instrumentally, the hammered dulcimer section on Ishak The Fisherman is especially noteworthy. Samplotron strings on strings on opener Sephiroth, Wendigo, Ishak The Fisherman and Midnight Sun, but as usual, it's a minor player in their instrumental palette. All of these albums feature sampled Mellotron, far too 'smooth' to be the real thing; listen to Tierra Boreal from Quentadharkën to hear a classic example of 'stretched' choir. None of them over-use it, which is good to hear, compared with any number of bands I've heard slathering samples over their album like an overly-thick layer of cheap margarine on a horrid white-bread sandwich. Individual performances are sort of irrelevant; suffice to say, they're used with taste throughout, in keeping with the largely excellent music.
Amaze Knight are an Italian progressive metal outfit, who released their debut, The Key, in 2012. Unsurprisingly, it's influenced (of course) by market leaders Dream Theater, although the band throw in a few typically Italian touches, especially in the quieter sections, notably the solo piano part in best track, the third part of Liberation, A New Day. Generally speaking, all five tracks hover around the ten-minute mark and show a better understanding of long-form construction and dynamics than many of their contemporaries, although they revert to generic downtuned riffology too often for this listener's tastes. Max Tempia plays keys, including real Hammond and sampled Mellotron, with string chords and a flute line on part two of Liberation, The Reflection, although that would appear to be our lot.
Oren Ambarchi's Audience of One is a drone-fest of monumental proportions, especially on the thirty-three-minute Knots, which you'll quite certainly either love or hate. Although he subsequently used a real Mellotron on 2014's Shade Themes From Kairos, here he utilises nothing more exciting than a few seconds of flute samples on Salt, although nothing on the credited Fractured Mirror (written by none other than Kiss' Ace Frehley, fact fans).
Ambeon are a bit of an oddity: essentially an Ayreon side-project, their sole album, 2001's Fate of a Dreamer, consists largely of remixed portions of Ayreon albums, overlaid with Astrid van der Veen's vocals and lyrics. The project's name is a portmanteau of ambient and Ayreon, which is about right. While I've listened to the entire Ayreon catalogue, I don't know any of the music well enough to spot from where Arjen Anthony Lucassen might have lifted anything, although I'm sure his dedicated fans will have pored over this album with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. Better sections include the Celtic-flavoured Lost Message, complete with its synth intro and, again, the synth work on original album closer Dreamer, but, as with Ayreon, it's all a bit too overblown for my tastes.
I doubt whether any of the album's samplotron parts are actually new recordings, which puts it into the unusual (though not unique: see Eminem) position of containing samples of whole musical phrases, albeit in this case of something that was only ever sampled in the first place. Anyway, we get choirs on Cold Metal, strings and choirs on Fate, strings on Sick Ceremony, super-extended choirs on Sweet Little Brother and choirs on bonus tracks Merry-Go-Round and the High remix. It seems that Van der Veen (all of fourteen when she recorded this) has given up music to concentrate on painting, to the chagrin of fans of the genre. Surely the current vogue for 'symphonic metal' (gah!) should bring her, now in her mid-twenties, back out of retirement? Incidentally, a two-disc special edition was also available, adding a far superior unplugged version of the whole album, all acoustic guitar, cello and flute.
Amber Light fall somewhere between 'typical' modern prog and the Talk Talk/Porcupine Tree, combining 'trad' prog moves with an almost post-rock sensibility in places. However, their debut album, 2004's Goodbye to Dusk, Farewell to Dawn, does rather outstay its welcome at over an hour, with overlong tracks like Clock Hands Heart and New Day, while Hide Inside is an irritatingly poppy effort, particularly in the vocal department. The album does have its better points, but they're all too often hidden behind what sometimes feels like hour upon hour of 'emotional' vocal work and an unfortunate tendency to attempt a 'crescendo-lite' style of writing, like applying Godspeed, You! Black Emperor's chief defining feature to a song-based aesthetic. Vocalist/guitarist Louis Gabbiani also plays the album's keyboard work, including samplotron on a couple of tracks, with block chord flutes on Devil Song and distant choirs on Gangsters.
Ambulette were one of Denali frontwoman Maura Davis' projects, who managed just the one release, 2006's The Lottery EP, before splitting up. It's pretty typical female-fronted US indie, to be honest, occasionally cranking up the volume, but defaulting to dreary miserablism at the first opportunity. Seconds Until Midnight is probably the most energetic track, but that's not a recommendation as such, merely a comment. Guitarist Ryan Rapsys and bassist Matt Clark are both credited with Mellotron, with some not wildly Mellotronic-sounding strings on Seconds Until Midnight, while the mooted Mellotron on Fall seems to be sustained guitar.
Jusqu'à la Mer is an album with a distinctly folky bent, chiefly of a Gallic nature, highlights including opener Voyager Léger, Les Filles Des Forges and Les Vents De Brume. Two gentlemen are credited with Mellotron, Olivier Longre on Mon Ami and Mes Très Chers and someone calling himself Bruz on Tout De Nous, but the flutes on all three tracks fail to convince.
American Babies are a Philadelphia-based Americana outfit, led by Tom Hamilton, nothing to do with any other Tom Hamilton you might know. Musically, the bulk of their eponymous debut sounds as much like '65 Dylan as anything else (Invite Your Friends, Brooklyn Bridge), although it has its quieter tracks, notably haunted closer Never Be Loved Like This Again. Stewart Myers is credited with Mellotron and Chamberlin, with (sampled Chamby?) strings on Swimming At Night, although I'll be buggered if I can hear where else they might be used; even the album's vibes are real.
Ammonia released two albums, '96's Satin Only single being on neither. It's a pretty-typical-for-the-era poppy-end-of-alt.rock effort, with little about it to differentiate it from a thousand others, frankly. Producer Paul McKercher is credited with Mellotron, but the overly-even (if not overly clean) flutes fail to convince.
Amoeba Split (from north-east Spain) have taken nearly ten years to release their debut, 2010's Dance of the Goodbyes, a lengthy, Canterbury-esque offering of wildly disparate track lengths that occasionally cuts Soft Machine and Hatfield & the North a little too close for comfort. Rather like its track lengths, this is, in some ways, an album of extremes: on the downside, flautist María Toro frequently sings flat, although she's developed a technique of sliding into notes that often sidesteps the problem. On the upside, however, the material's excellent, as is the playing, shifting between 'that Canterbury sound' and a more straightforward form of prog on different tracks. Highlights? For Canterbury fans, definitely twenty three-minute, four-part closer Flight To Nowhere, although more 'mainstream' (I use the term extremely loosely) progressive fans may well prefer the likes of Perfumed Garden.
Keys man Ricardo Castro Varela is credited with Mellotron, but I'm afraid I'm a doubting Thomas (doubting Thompson?), particularly when I hear the rare viola tapes on Perfumed Garden (along with flutes), other usage including strings and choirs on Blessed Water and rather England-esque strings towards the end of Flight To Nowhere. Well, real or sampled Mellotron, this is a fine album, although those of you with a low Canterbury tolerance (which sort-of includes me, to be honest) may not really go for it.